Archive | Tech

LinkedIn–What does a “Connection” Really Mean?

A couple of years ago, I wrote about my initial impressions from using LinkedIn. I was not so positive about it, and since then LinkedIn has shown that I know nothing, continuing its impressive growth in both users and profits.

LinkedIn002

Lately, I have been wondering about LinkedIn connections. In past work (and life) settings, connections really mattered. You had to work for them, though, and in theory, you could utilize them down the road. This also required you to actually know the person and be friends with him.

Carrying this concept online made sense – creating a good way to organize your real contacts and keep up with them. No more rolodex!

Today, I have “only” 161 connections. Almost everyone is someone I’ve met. If it’s someone completely new, I at least write an introduction in the invite and explain why I’d appreciate connecting with that person. I’ll even do that with people I may have met just incidentally or haven’t talked to in a long time. Otherwise, why should that other person connect with me, right? It’s no different from a friend-based social network – only accept your real friends.

LinkedIn

 

I’m also this way about accepting invites. Yet, no one who doesn’t know me has ever introduced himself when he sends an invite – all the people in the image above just sent me the blank template invite. I’ve sometimes asked people why they want to connect to me, and for those that do respond, it tends to be “just because”. No care is taken to write a personal message of introduction or perhaps lead into a real discussion. I actually wouldn’t mind meeting most of the people who invite me to foster that real relationship, but the way they approach it actually makes me think they don’t care about me, they just want to pad their stats. Most people who send me invites are in Vietnam, so perhaps this is more indicative of the current culture here, but are connections like game “points”?

Is the goal to win LinkedIn by collecting as many connections as you can regardless of any true relationship?

I’ve heard of people in the USA being graded on the number of their Facebook friends as an indicator of their social media prowess. I wonder if other LinkedIn users look at me and assume I’m a nobody.

I’d love to know more about you use LinkedIn:

  1. Is it important for you to have a real connection with a LinkedIn connection?
  2. Does the number of LinkedIn connections have any significance to you when you look at other people?
  3. If you’re someone who happily invites and adds other users randomly, why? Could these connections lead to a better opportunity down the road? This method certainly doesn’t work in offline settings, especially in Vietnam, so I’m interested in the reasons for this approach.

If the reason to add connections is so that when you need a job or help, this will maximize your reach, I don’t agree with that at all. If you don’t know or care about someone, why would you pay attention when they post? That’s just spam (unwanted messaging) that no one likes and everyone just ignores. What’s more likely is that you’ll block that person so they don’t appear in your feed again – this is no different from needing to have proper audience targeting of a marketing message.

0

Vine and Instagram – The Battle of Making Micro Videos Popular

Jimmy shared me this article from Medium: Vine™ has a wall to climb

See, the genius of Instagram is that it makes mediocre pictures look awesome. Suddenly everybody was an “artist”. That old sign? Wrap it in Mayfair: 96 likes. Your cat? Add a touch of Willow and he’s instant vintage: 127 likes. This was all folly of course, but we believed we were awesome because Instagram helped us to.

Yet Vine was a different animal. The videos were shaky and looked…well, average. Your content was only as beautiful as what you put into it. Then Instagram comes along with its filters and stabilization and crushes it. Add the ability to overlay your favorite tunes and you’ve got a masterpiece.

Brandon Carl has some good points, and I’d like to add my own.

There are plenty of tools that can you make feel great artistically, but in order for those tools to gain traction, the output has to be content that can be easily consumed by a mass audience. Content that is both attractive and easily consumed maximizes the potential feedback loop – I create content; people view it; they like or give me feedback; I feel good about this and do more.

That is the real key to viral content – easy creation of reasonable-looking content AND easy consumption.

Instagram made almost any photo reasonably ok to view while also giving creators an easy, almost brain-less way of improving their creations. Photos are very quick to view (1-2 seconds of attention span). Instagram facilitated growth by not allowing mass uploading. You could not upload a bunch of stuff at once – I think we’ve all seen someone would uploaded everything from their lives in a big mass and hated it. By forcing users to upload one at a time, users picked their best photos, added effects to make them even better. When you’re looking at your Instagram feed, you’re receiving a curated version of your friends’ best photos.

The winner was the viewing user. He could easily keep viewing photos, whether from friends or the general public. The curated and filtered output guaranteed a higher chance that he would enjoy the content, creating more engaged users to provide positive feedback for the creators, which then created more creators (who saw the feedback loop for themselves) and inspired more content. Instagram’s win was not adding filters to photos. It was by creating a system in which traditionally passive users became active creators and then giving those users enough feedback and encouragement to keep on going.

So, let’s take this argument to video. Creating a filtered photo takes a few seconds. Viewing it, similarly, also is quick. Video, however, is much different, and I compare it more to blogging versus microblogging (Twitter, Weibo, Mimo.vn).

Blogging gives you everything you could possibly want in terms of options – unlimited characters, formatting, attachments. Yet, less people will blog because (I believe) it’s more of a mental strain. If I can do ANYTHING, I don’t know what to do. With all this power, I have to write something substantial, but I don’t have anything to say. And that’s where the power of limitations and Twitter came in. With Twitter’s limitations, you could write very little, but everyone else could only do just as much. Your crap was probably no worse than the next guy’s. Thus, you felt more free to just start posting, and you could get in the habit of doing it more often because it was ok to have very little to say. It’s easier to have very little to say many times in the day than have a huge thing to say once a week. Writing a blog (like this) could take hours, while the microblog version would take seconds (“Instagram Videos may be too complex for both viewers and creators”).

For the viewing microblogging user, no matter how many updates they get in their feed, each update can be consumed in 2-3 seconds. Even if I write the dumbest thing in the world, my followers will get over it very quickly and move on. They won’t feel like they wasted a ton of time on me. If they had spent 5 minutes reading a terrible blog (hopefully, not this one), however, the feeling would be much stronger and more residual (“I’m never reading this idiot again”).

For video, I’ll compare the viewer and creator aspects of Instagram’s Video and Vine.

Viewing: as I mentioned, when reading a Twitter update (or Instagram photo), you know no matter what, it takes perhaps 2-3 seconds to consume, no matter how bad it may be. Very quick consumption. With Vine, you can say the same. I believe their team chose the 6 second maximum with this mental friction in mind. I am guessing that Vine looked at animated gifs and how long the viral ones tended to be as a sign of what is the maximum easy attention span that users have for motion content. That means, how short does something need to be so that you’ll just view it without any thought. Yes, the maximum attention span for amazing content is theoretically hours – that’s what movies are. But what is the time limit of a video from what an average user can create quickly that won’t tire the viewer? When I read blogs or go on random websites, I can remember animated gifs that last for 5-6 seconds and loop. I usually put in the time to watch them no matter how mundane.

From the Vine videos that I have watched, I have the same feeling about them as animated gifs – I can consume a lot without getting mentally tired, even if the videos aren’t that good. My feeling, however, is that 15 seconds has crossed that barrier from being really easy to “I have to think about whether I really want to sit here and wait for this”. It’s a conversion issue, and a few seconds difference makes a tremendous difference in whether someone will stay.

I don’t agree that videos can become like photos – photos can look good with a filter if you’re only scrutinizing it for a few seconds. Videos that last 15 seconds, however, may have their flaws exposed. When viewers can have negative experiences with videos (“this sucked”), this degrades the feedback loop. Less people enjoy the content, less give feedback and encouragement, less people then participate or join to create new content.

I could browse through 10 filtered photos of cats but I don’t want to watch a 15 second video of a cat even if the total consumption length is the same.

Creating: The magic of Instagram was taking a previously passive social media creator and giving him a tool in which he could do something immediately with it. With the 6 seconds and limited options on Vine, you don’t have to think much. You cannot do very much even if you wanted to. It’s a much more level playing field versus everyone else. With Instagram giving users more options and more time, the user has to think of something more significant. There is only a nine second difference, but it’s actually a 250% relative difference. Your videos have to be more than double the length. Yes, you have more options, but that also lets people with more video experience create something much better than you, making you feel more intimidated before getting started.

In case you’re thinking, just because you have 15 seconds doesn’t mean you have to use all 15 seconds, remember the case of blogs. Just because you have unlimited freedom doesn’t mean you have to write 500 words. You could write ten. But people don’t. Instagram videos make me think more, worry more, feel I have to put more of an effort in.

The hardest part to doing anything in life is getting started. Going back to my original argument “easy creation of reasonable-looking content AND easy consumption”, I think Vine will find better success at enabling both. Instagram’s features are more about making it simpler for people who already interested in video, while Vine is about getting people who never otherwise would do video to start. To get people to create content, you have to give them an environment in which others will want to view it, and not just the good content. Good content survives everywhere in any format, but relatively few people create it.

This is about getting your average quality video views, exposure, and feedback in order to continue that positive feedback loop.

I do not create video, primarily because I don’t really like watching a lot of personal video – not even my own. It’s a big mental time commitment, and I feel it has to be something good. I oftentimes just feel too embarrassed or I don’t have an idea of what I can do that can have an impact. The cam could be shaky, there might be too much ambient noise, there are a lot of reasons for me to not start. Medium removes all those issues – I cannot have those things even if I want them. The videos in Medium are like the photos in Harry Potter. They’re not videos, as we think of them, but they add an extra dimension to still photos that’s valuable but still easy to consume by the viewer and yet not difficult to make by the creator.

If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them!

(Image from: http://marketingland.com/vine-passes-instagram-total-twitter-shares-47579)

0

Why are you ignoring me, Lenovo? (Customer Service)

(Update, September 2nd: Terry McCarthy, Customer Advocate, Executive Customer Relations, Customer Satisfaction Programs from Lenovo Services worked with me to resolve the problem to my satisfaction. Thanks to Terry, but not Lenovo Asia / Malaysia / Ms. Andrea Ong – Lenovo Care Manager, ASEAN Services, whose solution, despite claiming to really be listening to me, was to offer me a sale price on a new Thinkpad. I am glad to have my faith in Lenovo restored and I look forward to using Lenovo in the future, at least Lenovo USA anyway.)

I’ve decided to write publicly about my situation with Lenovo Customer Support because they are basically ignoring me. I am trying to resolve a situation with my Thinkpad X220T.

In summary, I bought the device and paid premiums in pricing for Thinkpad quality, a 3 year warranty, and a touch screen (to use as a tablet for Windows 8). 1 year from purchase, the device has never been stable under Windows 8 – I don’t mean errors sometimes crash, I mean the system cannot boot and I lose data. The touchscreen developed a crack during a recent business trip in which one morning, I opened the Thinkpad lid, and the crack was there.

Lenovo feels the crack is directly attributable to my usage – I disagree, but more details about that are below.

What I consider the most troubling of all, is that I have explored all the channels to resolve the cracked screen issue. Lenovo USA, Lenovo Sales (Phone: 1 855 253 6686), Lenovo Vietnam (Phone: 12011072 – Floor 3B, 37 Ton Duc Thang, District 1 in Ho Chi Minh City), and Lenovo Malaysia. Each time, I have talked to a generally polite Customer Service Representative who has informed me of the warranty policy stating that the cracked screen is my problem.

I have asked repeatedly to escalate the issue and speak to a supervisor or someone who is able to make a decision regarding my problem. Lenovo USA referred me to their Vietnam office (I am working in Vietnam). When meeting Lenovo’s Vietnamese employees, they were clearly avoiding my request to escalate the issue. Eventually, they referred me to a regional email ([email protected]). After several days and another follow-up from me, I was able to talk to someone on the phone. I explained I understood the policy, but asked to escalate the issue if that person was not authorized to make a decision directly. While the rep did look into the issue, when she replied, she did not provide this escalation information as requested, and I had to ask again, as in the email below, sent last Friday to Lenovo Malaysia.

Right now, it is Tuesday night, and no one has answered my email.

While this has been going on (over the last couple of weeks), I called Lenovo in the USA again, and was denied warranty support and told to call Customer Care at 1-800-887-7435 to escalate the problem. I did and was told again about the policy but was not allowed to directly escalate the issue during that call. Juvette told me that even a supervisor had no authority and that a different department would need to look into the problem and would respond within 72 hours (3 days).

This was one full week ago.

Since I frequently travel on business and live in the Vietnam time zone, it is no easy task to find time to follow-up with Lenovo so much.

Now, I’m stuck. I can call Customer Care back, but I expect they will say the same thing – that someone will respond within 3 days and that I am not able to speak to someone directly. Since Lenovo has proven that they WON’T respond to me, how I can believe it the next time I am told this?

I don’t know if I will be able to settle the issue with Lenovo Malaysia. They may be responding to my email late on purpose as a tactic or perhaps no one at Lenovo has any responsibility for escalation.

I’ve amassed a bunch of case numbers and CSR names during this process – Case A059PQ7, Case A05HQT2, EMKI1300016; Juvette, Brittney, Tim F, Aisleen, Tan, Son, Chu, Jessie.

I feel like I have been reasonable and patient throughout this process, but Lenovo seems determined to make me absolutely hate them. What is seriously wrong with Lenovo?

Below is my last email to Lenovo Malaysia from last Friday:

Hi Jessie,

Thank you for continuing to help with this; I appreciate your effort.

However, I would still like to speak with the supervisor or the key person responsible for these decisions, as I mentioned before. Can you help me with this?

I am open to the repair proposal, but there is a bigger problem.

The reality is that I have been very unhappy with my X220T device since I bought it a year ago. As I mentioned to you over the phone I have experienced non-stop issues with it, which I’ll briefly summarize here, but can explain in more detail if needed. There are not just annoyances, but critical machine-stopping problems.

  1. The machine has never worked with Windows 8. At first, I was able to excuse this because of beta drivers or just early launch issues. Ever since first installing it late last year, it had consistently died within several weeks. The machine would simply not stall during startup (the logo) and never boot, when every other time, it would load within 10 seconds (pleasantly quick). Sometimes, system restores would help, other times not. I have even created mirror image backups through Windows 8 that would still fail to boot after restoring. I have lost personal data multiple times because of this.
  2. In all, I have spent over 100 hrs trying to figure out the issue in various forums and reinstalling Windows seven times since late last year. I have run all of Lenovo’s system diagnostics, looked for help everywhere online, but couldn’t figure out the issue. I have had my tech support staff spend tends of hours looking into it as well. After a fresh install with minimal programs, I would load all of the newest drivers and system updates through Microsoft and Lenovo hoping this new install would benefit from fixes, but it would only soon crash again. I actually reinstalled my computer again just yesterday, this time to Windows 7.
  3. Aside from this primary issue, Windows 8 on this machine would also consistently exhibit CPU idling issues in which the CPU would run at 33% at full priority even while nothing running. This would happen even with fresh installs. Eventually, after consulting Microsoft forums, I was able to find that the issue was a Lenovo software, so I had to stop installing Lenovo software.
  4. Most recently, using the desktop in Windows 8 would cause the computer to freeze and I would have to instantly shut down and restore to a previous state to get another few days before the issue would happen again. I have done all the antivirus and hardware checks that I could find, but there has never been a reason to all this.
  5. Other than this, even using Windows 7, the system had issues with Sleeping (it would not go to sleep properly and then overheat if carried around while traveling) and also USB ports that would not consistently recognize devices (flash drives, hard drives) that other machines would.

For many of these issues for the past months, I have blamed Microsoft, but now I am beginning to feel that the Lenovo machine has to have some part in the problems. It can’t just be all software related.

As I mentioned originally, I have loved the Lenovo Thinkpad line for a decade, paying premium prices for its computers. I had a T61P before this, and have always recommended Lenovo first in the workplace.

With my X220T, however, I just don’t trust it anymore. I am guessing I have just had extremely bad luck, but I almost feel cursed.

Perhaps we can get the screen repaired, but it’s a touch screen. It was supposed to be able to withstand stresses from touching, and even when I hadn’t used it much as a tablet, it still cracked for no reason. My fear is that it will crack randomly again.

I don’t know if the machine will ever work under Windows 8, and I feel afraid to even try – and I bought the X220t with the tablet specifically to wait for Windows 8 and use it as a tablet/laptop hybrid.

Thus, I would like to find a solution for the device itself. Obviously, to have your staff try to troubleshoot the machine and Windows would likely be time consuming and fruitless. In addition, since I travel with this machine frequently, it would not be convenient to be unable to work for a few days.

At this point, I would be open to exchanging the machine. I would be open to exchanging the machine for the non-tablet equivalent of the original, the normal X220 with similar specs. The non-tablet X220 is less valuable in price but I am willing to accept that loss. My reasoning is that I would be happy to use that machine with Windows 7, and I won’t have a constant reminder or fear of another cracked screen. I will just give up my aspirations for tablet computing and Windows 8.

I hope that Lenovo can appreciate my history and work with me to find a solution that doesn’t make me feel that Lenovo has turned its back on me.

7

NBA Game Time (International League Pass) in 2013 – a Sham of a Service

A couple of years ago, I looked at NBA League Pass for International audiences.

NBA Game Time International (Small)
In general, in 2011, the service was reasonably priced, but limited in features and buggy with virtually non-existent customer support.

Today, in 2013, things are basically the same. Almost every point I made two years is still true today. That indifference in making a better product, particularly when it’s clear how much NBA Game Time pales in comparison to the MLB (baseball) product is very disappointing. This year, I wasn’t able to access the NBA on my iPhone, and the service’s Customer Support is still atrocious.

Worst of all, prices have been raised considerably. Considering I primarily watch games on weekends (games are on in the morning during work hours), and only Golden State Warriors games, I probably pay $3 USD on average to watch a game. NBA TV is still a separate service that is not included.

Earlier today, I was so frustrated with their Customer Service (recently, video keeps pausing after a couple of minute, making games unwatchable) through another example of their indifference, ignorance, and template replies (instead of responding to what I was writing), I wrote back with:

I have been using League Pass for the last 3 years, and both your product and customer service are terrible.

I actually wrote about it in the past in a blog post that gets a surprising amount of views and I will let people know about how nothing has changed.

http://www.ispithotfire.com/2011/03/06/nba-league-pass-international-review/

  1. The product is terrible – no new features over three years and still buggy. Despite asking to keep me logged in, I am always asked to log in again and remember my password. From a pure product standpoint, other services are better. MLB for example, allows both home and away broadcasts. I HATE watching away broadcasts, and I HATE seeing the same generic commercials played over and over again. Earlier this year, when I asked about using League Pass on my iPhone, Customer Support directed me to a iTunes UK app link which cannot be used unless you’re a UK customer. There was no applicable iTunes link for US iTunes or Vietnam iTunes customers. When I asked Support about this again, I was ignored.
  2. Customer service is slow and often non-responsive. I have to follow-up as your support doesn’t even reply to my questions and comments, as just happened again this last time.
  3. Customer service provides template (“it’s the customer’s fault) answers instead of looking into what he is saying and potentially considering issues as real flaws that could be improved. As soon as Customer Service replies, I KNOW it is a template answer just meant for the customer to shut up and go away. This service is for International League pass, and you think I can ask a Vietnamese service provider to ask them why I have issues when connecting to a server in New York City in the United States? I already mentioned the stream used to work fine, and recently is when I started having issues. The feed would work fine, and then pause completely. If internet was simply too slow, which has happened to me before, I know that the video would take some time to queue up and then play again before pausing. However, the video here stalls completely and never turns back on.

My job is to pay you for a premium service. I did that. Your job is to provide it. You have not done that.

I guess since your company has a monopoly on things, why should they really care what people like me think? But, for people like me who are frustrated, that just gives them even more incentive to use free, pirated streams or use the money to switch to another sport completely.

At this point, why you even bother having the façade of customer service is a mystery to me.

Feel free to let [email protected] know if you feel the same as me.

0

Making Audio Books Louder for the Finis SwiMP3 Player with MP3Gain

SwiMP3® X18Last Christmas, I got myself the Finis SwiMP3 Player for my lap swimming sessions. Overall, it’s a good player – simple to use, and it doesn’t require anything to be inserted directly into the ears. Supposedly, it uses bone conduction to remove the need for earbuds, but I wonder if this is just a marketing term as you can hear the audio even if the head pieces are not actually resting on your head. My feeling is that they are primarily just speakers you can attach to the side of your head that play audio directly towards your head, thus the bone “conduction.”

I realize I am not a scientist, however, so I am (often) likely to be wrong.

The one issue raised by many users (see its reviews and comments on Amazon) is the low volume of the player, particularly for audio books. Since you really need to listen carefully to audio books (or audiobooks), having a reasonable volume that can be heard over the sound of water and activity is important. From my own experience, the SwiMP3 volume really is too low, even with earplugs in a fairly quiet empty pool environment.

To resolve the issue, you’ll need to modify the audio files to make them sound louder with the player. Don’t worry, it’s not difficult at all.

This is what Finis Support suggests for Apple iTunes users:

1. Click on the file you wish to change once so it is highlighted blue
2. Right click with your mouse and a drop down will appear, select get info (please note this may be properties in an earlier version of iTunes)
3. Another window will appear, please click on the options tab on the top of the window
4. On the top you will see an option for Volume Adjustment that is currently set to none
5. Click and drag the bar to the right to increase the volume, I recommend putting it at 75-80% so the clarity of the audio book is not distorted
6. Click Ok once you have adjusted the file volume and now drag the file over to your SwiMp3 drive

But for non-iTunes users like myself, the walkthrough above doesn’t help too much. Here’s what I did to make the mp3 files sound louder using MP3Gain, which is free:

  1. Copy the files you want to listen to to a separate folder – for example, to the desktop. This makes sure you do not affect your files during normal listening.MP3Gain Finis SwiMP3
  2. Run MP3Gain. Download it at http://mp3gain.sourceforge.net
  3. Pick from the “Add File” (if only one file) or “Add Folder” buttons to pick the files you need to modify.
  4. Once you have chosen the files you want, you can now set the volume required with the Target “Normal” Volume:
  5. I suggest a setting from 97-100 dB. The default is 89.
  6. You can select all the files for conversion in the Path\File area by pressing inside that box, and then Control-A (press the Ctrl and A keys simultaneously).
  7. If you press Track Analysis, the program will show you what volume each of the files has at the moment, compared to the volume increase.
  8. Go ahead and press Track Gain when you are ready; there is no need to press the down arrow on the side, just press the bigger main button.
  9. The process to convert the files may take a few minutes.
  10. Once this is done, copy the changed files back to the MP3 Player and enjoy. (Plug in your player into your computer’s USB port. Open the player (on a Windows PC, look under My Computer) and copy all the files you just modified into the player. In case the audio volume is still too low, you can try raising the volume even higher, but there will be a point in which the audio quality will decrease. Experiment for best results!

MP3Gain Finis SwiMP3a

0